We have all heard the sermons that begin with the pastor reading a verse or two from the Bible then launching into a sermon that leaves the text behind. The sermon may be loosely tied to some theme in the text, but the points of the sermon are not rooted in the logic of the text. These sermons are written from the thoughts, experiences, and study of the pastor, and they are foisted upon the text. He went to Scripture asking, “What text fits my sermon?”
In contrast, the goal of expository preaching is to ask, “What does the text say? What is its main point? What logic leads the author from point A to B? Why did the author say this? Why did he use these words? What does he wish us to understand from this text? How can I teach it clearly and memorably? Finally, how do we live it?” The sermon, then, is constructed in such a way that it elucidates the main point of the text, reveals its logic, and places emphasis upon prayerful application of the text.
Some think of expository sermons as dry lectures about the Bible, but the truth is that true exposition is never dry! We are dealing with the most interesting book there is: the Bible! If the exposition of the text is dry, it is not the fault of the Bible but of the preacher. Jesus was the greatest preacher who ever lived. Crowds listened to Him in awe. And He was an expository preacher! Luke 4:16-30 shows His typical preaching method as He moved from synagogue to synagogue. He read the text, then expounded its meaning, and finally called the people to obedience. His most famous sermon, the Sermon on the Mount, is a wonderful exposition of the true intent of the Law. He quoted many passages and expounded them, arguing for their true meaning as opposed to erroneous interpretations. Then He called the people to obedience. These were not dry lectures.
They were picturesque and vivid. His application was pertinent, direct, and meaningful.
Another great expository preacher in the Bible was Moses. Deuteronomy contains three sermons of Moses where he expounded the Law to the people of Israel. If you read through the book of Acts (and I encourage you to do so regularly), you see that the early church was committed to expository preaching. On the day of Pentecost, Peter stood up and quoted a passage from Joel 2. Then he expounded it and called the people to obey. Thus there is much Scriptural warrant for expository preaching.
Expository preaching has a high view of Scripture. It takes Paul’s words in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 seriously: “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” If every single part of Scripture is inspired (lit. breathed out) by God, then what could be more important or interesting for the preacher to talk about? Also, the preaching of the Scriptures is how the church is taught, reproved, corrected, trained up in righteousness; and the over-arching purpose of all this is that the believer would be made adequate and equipped for every good work.
As the preacher preaches an expository sermon, the congregation sees the text come alive. As they listen week after week, they have diligent Bible study modeled for them. This is one of the main goals of expository preaching: to teach believers how to read, study, and apply the Bible. Sermons that are not expository do not do this, because they do not follow the thought and logic of the text. Often, people walk away with the belief that they are not gifted to do Bible study, because they didn’t understand how the preacher got from the text to the sermon.
There is an erroneous notion that expository sermons MUST move consecutively verse-by-verse through entire books of Scripture, sometimes taking years to finish one book. However, this is only one method of expository preaching. It is arguably the best and the most common, but it is not the only method. There are at least four other methods:
Single-expositions are expositions of one biblical text that the preacher decides to preach on without committing to preaching the rest of the section or book. The next week’s sermon (if the single-exposition method is continued) will be an exposition of an unrelated text.
Section-expositions work verse-by-verse through one section of a book (i.e. the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7). The preacher parachutes in (as it were) to the section without preaching the preceding text of the book. Once the section is finished over the course of several weeks, the preacher moves on to a different portion of Scripture instead of continuing to the next consecutive section.
Topical-expositions focus on one topic, but examine many different texts throughout the sermon. A sermon series of topical-expositions may focus on the same topic (The grace of God) or closely related topics for several weeks (The attributes of God).
Biographical-expositions trace out the life of a biblical character, examining many different texts to develop
a picture of that person’s life.
So we see that there are many methods of expository preaching. We could list many more distinctions and nuances, but these five methods demonstrate the wide array of expository preaching methods. Expository preachers intuitively vary their expositional method depending on their goal, the holiday season, the needs of the church, etc.